Get fracking – corporate plans for Ukraine's future
An independent, modern, prosperous Ukraine was the vision of the young people that took to the streets to get rid of the Yanukovych regime and many think there is a better chance of that in partnership with the European Union than under Russian influence. But the fact is that the EU, US and their transnational corporate partners (and the home-grown oligarchs) have very different plans.
And these do not hinge upon the prosperity and wellbeing of Ukrainian citizens and their environment. Fracking on a massive scale will be a prime focus for EU and IMF "loans", and Shell and Chevron, who signed deals with ousted president Yanukovych in 2013, will be joined by all the usual suspects.
Ukraine has an estimated 42 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas reserves, the fourth largest deposits in Europe behind Poland, France and Norway. Since France is so far not in the market, Ukraine's deposits are even more attractive. The US Energy Administration suggests Ukraine could be exporting shale gas by 2020. With almost every Russian gas pipeline running through Ukraine, it would be possible to create parallel infrastructure exporting shale gas.
The Russian government says it objects to fracking in Eastern Ukraine because of fears about water pollution when its actual fear is competition. That is not to say water pollution won't happen, but it isn't stopping Russia's own fracking plans for large areas of Siberia.
The corporations are moving into other areas of Ukraine’s economy too. Ukraine's former collective farms were seized by oligarchs like Oleg Bakhmatyuk and grown to the point where his agricultural business UkrLandFarming is the worlds second biggest egg producer, and the eighth largest grain exporter.
UkrLandFarming recently sold a 5% share to multinational agri-chemical giant Cargill for £200m. Cargill already have a big operation in Ukraine, with feed mills, oil production and grain silos.
Ukraine is poised to become the world's third biggest grain exporter in 2014 overtaking Russia and Argentina, another blow to Russian hegemony. But all this wealth will not be produced to benefit ordinary Ukrainians. It will enrich the oligarchs and their global partners whilst it further destroys Ukraine's land and ecology.
There is terrible air pollution throughout Ukraine, because of the coal-burning industries of eastern Ukraine and poor regulation of transport. The rich dark soil of the steppes is already suffering from erosion and land slips due to over farming. Grain production is being sustained by the application of huge quantities of chemicals and recent low rainfall has led to a need for more irrigation.
The great rivers – the Dnieper, Dniester, and Donets – are seriously polluted with chemical runoff. The diversion of fresh water has made the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea more saline, damaging marine wildlife and reducing fish stocks.
Ukraine must also go on coping with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. Vast areas of farmland and forest are contaminated with radioactivity including Strontium 90, but small farmers are still working it.
Ukrainians just have to look across the border to Poland to see that EU membership is not necessarily a route to modernity. Poland is still a focus for dirty industries with low levels of regulation that EU giants France and Germany would never permit on their own soil.
And the Polish government has put thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land on the market in recent years – multinational purchasers are accused of planning to exploit a legal loophole to start growing GM crops. Polish farmers have been blockading the land sales agency with tractors continuously for a year.
Millions of Ukrainians are now set to join the economic and environmental struggles facing all of us on the planet – they are more than welcome!
6 March 2014